Various American tour companies offer one- or two-day trips to the Otavalo market and surrounding villages, often as extensions to journeys to the Galapagos Islands or the Amazon. The fair is held on Saturdays from 7 a.m. until noon.
A far cheaper alternative, however, is arranging such a tour directly with an Ecuadorian travel firm in Quito. Least expensive, particularly if you are adventuresome and someone in your party speaks Spanish, would be renting a car and doing the trip yourself.
Getting there: American Airlines has daily flights from Los Angeles to Quito via Miami. The lowest round-trip fare is $624. Ecuatoriana Airlines also offers direct service from Los Angeles to Quito via Mexico City.
Where to stay: Hosteria La Mirage (Cotacachi, Ecuador; reservations handled through P.O. Box 11365, C.C.N.U., Quito) is a beautifully landscaped hotel less than four miles from Otavalo. Prices for the 14 rooms range from $40 to $60, double occupancy, per night, including a first-class dinner and continental breakfast at a covered patio looking out on mountain vistas.
Hosteria Chorlavi (P.O. Box 828, Ibarra, Ecuador) is a 200-year-old hacienda with Old World charm that was known as the "Love Nest" when Inca men brought their wives there on honeymoons. Double rooms are $16 per night, including use of tennis and squash courts.
Hacienda Cusin (San Pablo del Lago, Ecuador; reservations handled through Casilla Postal 428-A, Quito, Ecuador) was built by the King of Spain in 1602 as a large cattle farm, and is the oldest hacienda in Ecuador. Horses and ponies are available. Rooms are $35, including three meals.
Where to eat: Hosteria La Mirage is a superb place to sample Ecuadorian cuisine in an attractive setting. Hosteria Chorlavi, 12 miles outside Otavalo, is another good choice for typical fare. Dinner for two without liquor is about $10 at each restaurant.
Try ceviche (shrimp or fish marinated in lemon juice), locro (potato soup made with cheese and avocados) and llapingachos (cheese and potatoes in a tortilla served with a fried egg on top). Ecuadorian beef is excellent and inexpensive. Mora sherbet, a cross between strawberry and grape, is a good dessert choice.
Tour companies: Metropolitan Touring, C.P.O. Box 2542, Quito, Ecuador, or its U.S. representative, Adventure Associates, (800) 527-2500, is the largest tour operator in Ecuador. It arranges daily group trips to the market and villages for $34 per person, including lunch. Overnight trips are $100 per person, including meals. The day rate for a private car is $87 per person; a two-day trip costs $199.
Buses for Otavalo leave frequently from Calle Manuel Larrea 1211 in Quito. One-way fare is $2.50 for the 2 1/2-hour journey. Advance purchase is advised.
For more information: Contact the Ecuadorian Consulate, Tourist Information, 548 S. Spring St., Suite 602, Los Angeles 90013, (213) 628-3014.